By Matthew Charles Heulitt
IF YOU ARE A DIE-HARD KISS FAN, you already know that the Axe Bass is the pinnacle of all rock instruments. You also might know that the Gene Simmons Axe Bass was originally made by Kramer (with an aluminum neck) for a year or so in the early 1980s. According to a July ’81 article in Guitar Player, they were selling for $799, which was supposed to include an authentic signature from Mr. Simmons himself (although some did not). No one seems to know how many were actually made; they eventually donned a price tag of $5,000 and up. But fear not, you leather-clad headbangers, you blood-spewing gore-rockers of hairsprayed past, for these hatchets of rockitude are now affordable to anyone, even to those with the most embarrassing of minimum-wage jobs.
The moniker of referring to your instrument as an axe has been around since at least the 1940s. Jazz musicians brought their “axes” to jam sessions to “cut heads,” or into the practice room to “woodshed.” While the origins of this strange nickname are unknown, we do know that in the late 1970s, in a moment of supreme clarity, Gene Simmons took this reference to a whole new bloody dimension, and his vision was realized by luthier Steve Carr to produce the original Axe Bass. Modeled after English executioner-style axes, this instrument of mass destruction became the ultimate stage prop to round out Kiss’s extravagant live show.
While this unholy rebirth by Cort does not have the original aluminum neck or a signature on the body, it still retains the familiarly ominous hatchet shape commonly displayed at Kiss live shows. Beyond its appearance as a wellworn blade, worthy of lopping off the heads of skinny-legged indy-rockers or square-pants jazz cats, this bass has few other frills. There is only one volume control, one tone control, and a 3-way toggle switch for the two passive pickups. Despite having a wood neck, the Axe Bass somehow seems to retain the tone of an instrument resonating through lightweight metal. Full of midrange and lacking massive low end, it is clearly meant to be picked—I mean, c’mon, it’s an axe. Besides, you’d be at risk of damaging the fresh coat of black paint on your nails to do otherwise.
Ergonomically, once again let me remind you, this bass is an axe. You can’t play it sitting down. One does not sit with the axe bass; one dashes to and fro on a stage the size of a basketball court breathing fire and blood. Besides, while sitting, the blade jams painfully into your leg and puts the whole thing at an angle that makes it virtually impossible to play. Standing, it’s not much better. You’d think it would be relatively balanced with all that jagged mahogany in the body, but it is insanely neckheavy. The front strap pin (which curiously did not come installed, but rather in a small baggie) is at the 19th fret and does little more than hold the bass. When you choose to hold up the sign of the beast for your adoring fans, please do so with your right hand, and secure your left hand on the neck so as to keep the headstock from plummeting to the floor. Ideally you would of course be wearing eight-inch platform shoes and have plenty of clearance … but still, better safe than sorry.
Thankfully, and if you can manage to keep a hold of it, the bolt-on maple neck is pretty easy to play, with large frets and a rosewood fingerboard. Clearly, there’s nothing more embarrassing than flubbing lines when you are supposed to be an emissary of Satan himself. Of course, the Axe Bass does not require its handler to have chops (the chops are already built in). But for those who might care, our tester’s 6th fret was a little high and required a little extra neck relief—but after this small adjustment I was able to rattle off flashy pentatonic riffs with ease and minimal buzz. The chrome bridge cover actually does something aesthetic as well as ergonomic, although if you need to change strings in a hurry you might want a second Axe Bass on hand just in case. For travel, the gig bag features a life-size headshot of Mr. Simmons encased in fire. Oh yes. Let there be no doubts, you will be the center of attention with the Axe Bass.
Perhaps the best thing about the Axe Bass is that it is a striking reminder (pun intended) that if it’s your intention to dominate the world by rocking, you must always handle your instrument like a weapon. And if you have the tenacity to wear one-quarter of your body weight in leather, spikes, and fake blood, just get the freaking Axe Bass— it is your destiny.
CORT GS-AXE-2 BASS
Pros It’s shaped like an axe; killer midrangey rock tone
Cons It’s shaped like an axe
Bridge Cort EB6
Pickups Mighty Mite MMJB-R & MMPB-4
Controls Volume, Tone, 3-way pickup switch
Made in Indonesia
Warranty Lifetime limited